The Kennedy Center Honors 2021 are back in December! “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is proud to celebrate the 44th Honorees for lifetime artistic achievements: operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder, songwriter, producer, and director Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, legendary stage and screen icon Bette Midler, and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.”
The program was recorded on Sunday, December 5. It will air on CBS-TV on Wednesday, December 22 at 9 pm ET.
There is occasionally one person on the list with whom I am not familiar. Can you guess which one? Justino Diaz originated the role of Francesco in the September 10, 1971 world premiere of Ginastera’s Beatrix Cenci, performed for the… now Washington National Opera), which inaugurated the Kennedy Center Opera House.
Don’t forget the Motor City
Whereas Berry Gordy I’m VERY familiar with. Not only did he establish Motown, but he is a songwriter and producer. His Songwriters Hall of Fame resume identifies just some of the songs he created or co-wrote. These include All I Could Do Was Cry -Etta James; and Lonely Teardrops plus others for Jackie Wilson even before he started the label.
Also, Shop Around – Miracles; A Do You Love Me – the Contours; Try It Baby – Marvin Gaye; You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Brenda Holloway; I’m Livin’ in Shame – Diana Ross and the Supremes. As part of The Corporation, he co-wrote a string of hits for the Jackson 5, such as I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There. Listen to a few.
In 1998, I made a pilgrimage to Detroit. 2648 W Grand Blvd was the home of Hitsville, USA, and is now the home of the Motown Museum, where the Motown Sound was recorded from the late 1950s until 1972 when the label moved to Los Angeles. The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops, and most of the aforementioned artists recorded there.
In the 1970s, Gordy was involved with movies, such as Mahogany and Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross, who was nominated for an Oscar.
Live From New York
I watched Saturday Night Live, almost every episode from its beginning until 1999. Show creator Lorne Michaels was at the helm from 1975-1980, and from 1985 onward. These days I tend to catch clips from the show on YouTube rather than watch the whole thing. But it is amazing that over 45 years after it was created, it still mines relevant material.
Some of his other credits sometimes involve SNL alums. TV executive producer: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, 30 Rock, Portlandia. Movies: Wayne’s World, Tommy Boy, Mean Girls, and MacGruber. Broadway: he produced and directed Gilda Radner – Live From New York. He also produced several TV specials.
“Michaels’ 93 Emmy® nominations are the most ever for an individual. He received the 2004 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.”
Bette Midler is an Oscar away from an EGOT. She has three Emmy Awards®, including for her performance on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which I watched, plus six other nominations. Her four Grammy Grammy Awards® include Best New Artist (1973). She was considered 11 other times, including for ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Divine Miss M, which I just played this month, and the BEST POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE, FEMALE: the single from that album, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
One of her two Tony awards was for Hello, Dolly! (2017). But the other was a Special Award in 1974, “for adding lustre to the Broadway season” with her dozen and a half performances of a one-woman show. Twice she was nominated for an Academy Award®: For the Boys (1991) and The Rose (1979), neither of which I saw. But I did catch Ruthless People and The First Wives; Club. And yes, I saw Beaches.
In 2021, I purchased a box set of the first four Joni Mitchell albums. I had never owned the first album, Song To A Seagull; so THAT’S where Judy Collins found Michael From Mountains. Nor the second, Clouds. The third, Ladies of the Canyon I have on vinyl; I wrote about getting castmates to listen to it. The fourth is Blue, the Top Five on many people’s lists, which I own. Even Joni admitted, “There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals.”
I have, in some form, For The Roses, Court and Spark (rebound album), Miles of Aisles (the pictured venue reminds me of the first time I saw her perform), The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (which I had coveted)… Actually, I own every non-compilation that is listed here through Turbulent Indigo.
Check out Joni discussing her health issues. “I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right.” Also, Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great? Episode 91: Joni Mitchell’s Amelia and My Dinner With Joni Mitchell: 3 hours with an Icon.